by Sharon Stevens
In honor, memory and celebration of
Jerry Williams and Ruth Holladay
Who on this earth hasn’t heard the “screech” in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho” without knowing what comes next. I ask you, who doesn’t know what follows? This is one vision that remains blistered in the movie-going psyche from past generations, and are now revived with the new movie coming out. Shadows, knife blades, shower curtains…they all play a part in making the story come to life. But they are all simply “Macguffins”.
Take my hat for example. I have a hat, the most wonderful chapeau you could ever imagine, made special for me to celebrate a Kentucky Derby event at my mother’s church. I had Nikki Sams at Stevens Flowers transform two cowboy hats for this. I felt like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” when I entered their magical world on the courthouse square in Canyon. With outstretched arms I begged them to help me with an idea for my mother and me to celebrate together. Mother’s needed to be respectable while I wanted mine to represent everything patchwork. What they came up with was nothing short of miraculous. Mother’s hat was black sparkly crochet on a gold background with pearls hanging down the back. Mine was every color of the rainbow, interwoven together, connecting each hue to the next. It was covered in crochet, lace, and bright expressions of “bling.” I have never had anything with “bling” before.
We were a hit wearing our hats and had more fun. After the event my mother put hers away and I hung mine on the longhorn horns at our bookstore, and this has been a real conversation starter for anyone who comes in.
At the bookstore I wear many hats, but none more special than this one. I take it down and wear it on story-telling occasions in memory of “Patchwork.” It is my way of honoring Ruth Holladay and Jerry Williams. Both true storytellers inside and out. Jerry would wear a silk patchwork top hat while Ruth donned a patchwork vest with pockets galore. Ruth never knew what story she would tell until she got up before her audience and put her hand in her pocket. Whatever object she pulled out would determine the story she would weave.
I can’t wear my hat without being reminded of all the wonderful stories that surround all of us to be written and shared. Also, when this is perched brightly on my head it brings me courage and inspiration. Downright silly in the wrong setting, it fits perfectly for all ages with its sparkle and bling in the right one. And its not that I’m invisible underneath, but it helps to hide my sheer terror while the audience gushes over the designs and colors woven intricately together.
To me this object represents a MacGuffin. When Harrison Ford promoted “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” he mentioned that the skulls were a “MacGuffin,” a storied item worth seeking, such as the Ark of the Covenant. This was a phrase first coined by Alfred Hitchcock in 1939 and picked up by Steven Spielburg and George Lucas. Hitchcock describes the meaning as “whatever impels the villains and virtuous characters in a movie to pursue each other through the convoluted plots. The mechanical element that usually crops up in any story…the object around which the plot revolves.” Lucas further strengthened the idea. “A MacGuffin should be powerful and the audience should care about it almost as much as the dueling heroes and villains on-screen.”
I can’t wait to see the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Psycho” to see the Macguffins placed in the film. To hear the story behind the “screech” and see the knife blades slice in the shower without the special effects we have today will have special meaning.
My hat, my MacGuffin, signifies thousands upon millions of precious stories I can connect together at a drop of a hat. Nikki Sams created and crafted my jewels with the artistry of her grandmother, Montene Stevens who taught her to crochet. Nikki’s mother, Debbie Stevens and grandmother Shirley White shared their passion and the heritage of beauty not just in flowers. Stevens Flowers is also a family business which will be celebrating 75 years this year in the community.
Every time I come into their store I am inspired and linked to another story and memory, and not only because of my hat. When I leave I am renewed in my faith to set my thoughts down in some form or fashion to share with generations to come. Even though those gifted in the flower shop are not milliners, I can only imagine that Stevens continues the tradition of our prairie foremothers (as opposed to forefathers) who must have fashioned bonnets with bits of ribbon and lace, fabric and scraps to renew that which adorns our heart and soul.
As writers we can weave a story together, but you have to have a tangible object to connect it to. Tonight I will have a special occasion to display my special “lid,” my precious chapeau, at the storytelling at Winterfest at the library at Dimmitt Texas.
I will be reading excerpts from the book “One Christmas in Old Tascosa” by Casandra Firman about the pencil. Each person that settles on the patchwork quilt at the library to hear my story will be given a little pencil and a childrens note pad to bring the story together. This precious book was written with stories about Casandra’s mother, Qunitelle Speck Firman Garmany during the days of the dust bowl and Depression in 1931, and I will also try to link and connect Ken Burns PBS series on the dust bowl.
Isn’t that what a Macguffin does? They bring together all the wonderful memories together of hardship and simple joys to celebrate family together.
I will probably keep my hat on display at the table covered with a quilt and surrounded by cloth dolls from my heritage. And the kids will probably have a blast trying the hat on and holding the dolls. My clothes are my role player costume from my storytelling days at the museum and celebrate Mrs. Claus.  My husband will be there in his “duds” with the imagination of a “cowboy Santa”. He has a great STETSON to wear just for the occasion and my colorful cowboy hat will fit right in, a mixture of our western heritage and silly celebration. The Stetson came from the West Texas Western Store and his clothes came from the Scully Company with the help of the Hide Out.
All of these are Macguffins coming together to share past and present, I wonder what visions will dance in their heads when they go to sleep tonight. I only hope I can help their dreams to be filled with color and “bling” and not with any “Psycho” running through their hearts.I truly don’t want the kids to think I am some crazy lady who will go bonkers at the drop of a hat. Actually I am quite harmless and I don’t live or work at the Bates Hotel. But on second thought, I do keep my hat speared on the skull of our longhorn mounted on the wall at the Buffalo Bookstore. Hmmm.

It’s All in How You Look at It

Outtakes 70

It’s All in How You Look at It

By Cait Collins

I’ve developed a fondness for seek-and-find puzzles. I’m a wiz at find the word and hidden pictures as well as find the differences. I tell myself I work these to exercise my brain, but the truth is I enjoy the challenge. My favorite is hidden pictures. You have a large scene and a list of items hidden within the picture. Sometimes the search is easy, but then I hit a wall. I’ve checked the obvious portions of the frame, but do not find any of the hidden items. But when I rotate the page, I get a new perspective and am able to locate more of the objects.

Writing is similar to searching for the hidden objects. We come to a point in crafting a scene where the words don’t come. We write a sentence, delete it, and stare at the screen. Nothing comes. Maybe it’s time to rotate the scene.

Consider changing the point of view. The heroine reached her lowest point at the end of the previous chapter. She’s on her knees, and … And what? Instead of inserting the hero into the scene to save the day, relate the chapter from the eyes of the antagonist. What does he see? How does he react? Is there any sympathy for her suffering? What part has he played in bringing her to her knees? How can he use it to further his cause? The new perspective may bring out new insight into the characters and lead to different paths for the story.

What if the setting changed?  When I began writing HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW, I had not planned for the original Walker homestead to play a role in Kate’s story beyond the property being the location of the infamous pond. But when she returned to her childhood home, she remembered the good times. Up to this point, her focus was on the bad. The location change set up a turning point I had not anticipated. The chapter is one of my favorite parts of the story.

Think about other ways to rotate the page to punch up the tale. Introduce a character from the past. Throw in a surprise find. Unearth a secret. Even a minor change could be the very thing to propel the work to a higher plateau.



By Rory C. Keel

Style is the quality that makes your writing easy to understand and pleasant to read. Style is different from punctuation and grammar which rarely factor in a writer’s style because they are generally standardized. For example, you could write a grammatically correct piece of work using large amounts of passive verbs with few active verbs and have poor style.


Good writing style is developed with practice. The more you write the better your style gets. Here are a few helpful suggestions to work on:

  1. Save the most interesting or important words for the end of the sentence.
  2. Use parallel structure in your writing. In other words, use consistency in sentence structure.
  3. Avoid echoes. This is a repetition of a word multiple times in a sentence or paragraph.

As you write and revise, your own personal style will develop over time.


Libraries: the Future is Now

Libraries: the Future is Now

by Natalie Bright

Friends of the Cornette Library, WTA&M University, Fall Luncheon featured Gillian McCombs as the keynote speaker. McCombs is Dean and Director of Central University Libraries at Southern Methodist Unviersity in Dallas, soon to be home of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, making Texasthe only state with three presidential libraries.

Card Catalogs

She reminded us about libraries of old. Who remembers the card catalog, with hand-written reference notes on actual index cards? Times have certainly changed and as McCombs points out, “Librarians are doing so much more than saying Shh.”

“Librarians have always believed in open access, and Google certainly unlocked the store,” McCombs says. With an estimated 4.7 billion searches in any given day, we’re a part of a democratization of information. Everybody can contribute as writers and bloggers, and information is readily available. We have the unvalidated Wikipedia, book reviews on Amazon, and we see newspapers struggling to find the best method to deliver their content ‘now’.

The Physical Place

The question asked today is do we need physical libraries?  McCombs believes we do now more than ever. Even with information at our fingertips, students and communities still choose the library. “Think of the library as place,” says McCombs.  ” For most people, #1 place is home, #2 is work, and the library meets the need as #3. A place to go outside of work or home, similar to the coffee houses or pubs.” Cafes and gourmet coffee shops are appearing in libraries all across the country offering internet access and sponsoring community events making them an essential part of neighborhoods.

It’s a New Day

Southern Methodist University library offers mobile apps for students. Have a question? You don’t have to go downstairs and find the librarian. You can send a text.

SMU is also making great strides to digitize special collections making rare documents available on a world wide level. A few to mention is The Bridwell LibraryPerkins School of Theology, provides online digital resources related to theology and religious studies. Highlights include images of rare books, Bibles, manuscript codices and fragments. The Underwood Law Library, part of the Dedman School of Law, featuring an online archive of litigation pertaining to the desegregation of Dallas schools.

McCombs reminded us that kids today have not lived in a world without digital access, and to meet their needs many libraries will be conducting continual assessments of who they serve. I for one, am anxious to see how our libraries will evolve for the future.

Nothing to See


Nothing to See

By Nandy Ekle

I watched a movie the other day that gave me some inspiration. A man stood on the road with a little girl next to him.

“What do you see?” he asked her.

“You know, regular stuff.”

“Okay. Now what do you NOT see?”

That line blew my mind. I tried it the next day. I looked at my desk and listed all the things I could see there. I have pictures of my family, an Easy button, a goofy old trophy, telephone and computer.

So then I thought about what I didn’t see on my desk. I started with obvious things like the sun, kitchen sink, dog, and fried chicken. Before long I wasn’t seeing things like a superhero fighting a bad guy to save his girl, or a woman playing a practical joke by convincing the world she has a ghost. Once I wasn’t seeing those things, I also didn’t see the woman loved by the superhero realize how much she also loved him, and how the woman playing the practical joke had to learn a painful lesson.

You should give it a try.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.



“Gather all the witnesses you can…”
Twilight  Breaking Dawn Part 2
By Sharon Stevens
Years ago our family used to play a word game called “Boggle”. The object was to shake the box with the letter squares, and then turn over the hourglass timer and to try to make words out of the letters. The more letters you formed into words the more points you gained. To our family this was a fun game, noisy but fun.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing that we have a trillion or more words right at our fingertips?
If we are writing a story we can pluck thoughts and ideas out of our hearts, our soul, our minds and our very being. We can take these bits and pieces and shape them into anything we choose. Every genre starts with something this simple.
Think of this…pick a word, any word and turn it into horror, romance, fiction, non-fiction, laughter, darkness, pain, or joy. See how easy it is to twist and turn groupings of letters into ideas and dreams.
At the end right before the credits of Twilight- Breaking Dawn 2 I witnessed certain words highlighted out of Stephanie Myers book. Words like “forever” came to light and it struck me how these same letters could be linked together in so many ways to convey every feeling humanly possible.
And this is my Thanksgiving wish for all. I am most thankful that there are so very many ways to turn the alphabet into wonderful memories. Not only that, to know how great it is to be able to read and write and share with the blessings of our American freedom. To me this is the symbol of a true Thanksgiving.
One word at a time!

Thank You

Outtakes 69

 Thank You

By Cait Collins

It’s that time when we begin looking back over the events of the year, assessing the good and the bad, the successes and the disappointments. No matter how tough the year may have been, it’s important to realize that writers have much for which to be thankful. It’s been a good year for me. I have completed HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW and am working on the final edits. I have started a contemporary western short story. I’m working on a short work entitled Borrowed Uncles. There have been disappointments, but the good far outweighs the bad. I sat down and made a list of some things for which I am truly grateful.

  1. I’m thankful for parents who taught me to love books and stories. Even before my sisters and I were old enough to read on our own, Mom and Dad took turns reading to us. They made sure there were books in the house. No matter where we were stationed, they found the public library and took us to get library cards. They encouraged my story writing.
  2. I have five sisters who are a major part of my support group. They want me to succeed. They have encouraged me to investigate publishing my novels as E-Books. (It’s on the agenda.) The great thing is they don’t gloss over my mistakes. When something is not right, they tell me.
  3. I have a great critique group and a reader. Natalie, Dee, Craig, Sharon, and Joe give good advice. They temper the problems with positive comments. Cynthia takes the completed work and gives it a final read. Their support and friendship means more than they will ever know.
  4. I’ve been blessed with good mentors. Successful writers tend to give back. They’ve been through the early struggles, have been given support by their peers, and now they reach out to newer writers who are finding their footing. Michael Cunningham told me to write my story. Author/actor Bruce Campbell showed me how to treat fans, Michael Blake spoke of keeping on in the face of rejection. Nicholas Sparks honestly told a group of writers at a book signing that being successful doesn’t make the job easier. It means you have to do it better next time. Jodi Thomas, Phyliss Miranda, Linda Broday, Kim Campbell, Jenny Archer, Gail Dayton, Terry Burns, Candace Havens, and the late Rhonda Thompson guided my early efforts and told me never to give up. I could fill this page with other writer friends and mentors. There are so many who have been part of my growth.
  5. I’m grateful there are a limitless number of stories to tell. Okay, were told there are only about seven stories. That may be true, but there are so many ways to tell them. The challenge is to create a unique version of the theme.

This is just a sample of a writer’s list of blessings. Each of us can add more and more to the list. Recognizing the endless blessings and expressing our gratitude helps us through the dark times when we stare at the screen and nothing comes. It makes the rejections easier and the critics less upsetting. Thank you to all of you who read and follow this site. I appreciate every one of you.



by Rory C. Keel

At some point between starting a story or novel and publishing, you will need to write a synopsis. It can be a great tool in keeping you on track with your writing. Most literary agents, publishers and even writing contests will require a synopsis along with a few sample chapters of your writing with your submission.

A synopsis is a brief outline of the basic plotline of your story. It differs from your story or novel in that it covers the brief and precise outline of the characters and major plot points of the story, and not all the small details.

When writing a story or novel, a writer is taught to “show don’t tell.” However, when writing the synopsis the reverse is true, “tell don’t show.”

When starting a synopsis, write a theme statement to help guide your thoughts. What is the main theme that defines your story?

Next, answer the following questions telling the reader the answers. Remember “tell don’t show” in the synopsis.

1. Who is the protagonist in the story?

2. What are his or her personality traits? List strengths or weaknesses.

3. What other characters surround the protagonist?

4. What is protagonist’s major conflict?

5. How does he or she solve the conflict?

6. What hindrances stand in the way of accomplishing the goal?

7. How is each obstacle conquered, or is it?

8. What is the climax of the story?

9. How does the story end?

10. What change takes place in your protagonist?

For the Love of History

Middle Grade Mondays

 For the Love of History

by Natalie Bright

If you love history, a fictional story in an historical setting might be something you’d like to tackle. Historical fiction is a time-consuming, massive undertaking. Not only do you need the common elements of story craft, you also need a basic knowledge of the time period. Your details must be accurate or you will get snippy feedback from passionate readers (ask any historical author about the letters and emails they’ve received).

Research-Write Process

Authors confront the research portion of their stories in several different ways. Based on questions to some of my favorite historical writers, here are a few of the processes I’ve learned about.

1) Research the heck out of it first, then power through and write the first draft. Do. Not. Stop. Verification of facts, sensory building, characterization, etc., is done during the editing process.

2) Start with minimal research, character profiles, and develop a basic plot outline. Write, stopping to inquire about specific details as you write. This would be akin to one step forward, three steps back form of world building. By the time you get to the end, you have a fairly polished novel.

3) Total and complete emersion into the time period. You consciously and subconsciously step back into that era.. While you write, you’re developing character profiles, plot elements, intricate details about life, and researching the time period. In your spare time, if not writing, you can rent movies on that time period and read nonfiction books.

Its In the Details

It’s the subtle details about everyday life that brings historical fiction alive for me.  Everything must be true to that time period. For example, in my middle grade western, the heroine’s mother told the town’s sheriff to “give me a call.” When I heard those words as I read them out loud to my critique group, I felt like such an idiot. The only way the Sheriff could have “called” in 1885 is through a mega phone.  Oh wait, were mega phones even invented by 1885? (See what I mean. As if writers aren’t already crazy enough.)

Beware of those every day, subtle details. They’ll sneak up on you. I believe people who lived in other centuries had the same desires, dreams, aggravations that people do today, but their day-to-day realities are not the same as ours.


One element that is critical when writing historical fiction regardless of the process you use, is a timeline.  This can be developed on your computer in a spreadsheet fashion, they can be found online on numerous history sites, or you can make your own with dry eraser board or butcher paper to be taped to your wall for easy reference.

1) Time of day and days of the week specific to your characters as your plot progresses.

2) Print a timeline from a credible website with major events. You might want to thread these events through your plot line. Is your character directly a part of that event?

3) A timeline specific to your setting and a plat or map. What’s going on in the fictional town where your character lives and how is it affected by actual events of the time?

Have you discovered a process that I haven’t mentioned?

What process works best for you?





by Nandy Ekle

What is your writing space like? Do you like dark or bright? Do you like quiet or mild chaos or even outright bedlam? My space used to be child’s bedroom. The child grew up, moved out, and I got the room.

I painted the walls a green-blue-gray, what I call Right Before the Storm. There’s still a bed in there (have to have it for grandkids), but I’ve also put a good desk, a bookshelf and a file cabinet in there. Because I love trees and forests, my husband gave me a piece of redwood tree bark and a picture of the Redwood Forest. I have a haunted house calendar and a wooden plaque shaped and painted to look like an old manual typewriter. I also have a plastic clock that’s supposed to look like it’s melted.

There’s another object I have that I am very proud of. For my birthday this past year, my friend gave a black enamel candelabra that holds three candles. I told her I had always wanted to walk through a dark house holding a lit candelabra just like in an old gothic horror movie. She didn’t laugh at me or make me feel silly at all. In fact, she knew exactly what I meant.

I love to write dark themed stories and these things help get my mood set for a lot of horror fun. If you have trouble getting in the mood for your story, you might try rearranging your writing space. Sometimes the muse hides somewhere that’s been the same for a long time.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.